The time between the end of one state legislative session in February or March and the start of the next session in January is essential learning time for state lawmakers — and crucial work time.
The interim schedules of many legislators are filled: meetings with dozens of legislative committees, advocacy groups and state agencies; field trips to state and community facilities and natural disaster sites; and formal and informal gatherings with the people of New Mexico. For these members, New Mexico’s “part-time” Legislature is anything but.
The Legislative Finance Committee has spent this summer absorbing and analyzing reports and testimony in meetings, and this month will start budget hearings. From now until December, even as we continue to hear reports on a myriad of important issues, hundreds of representatives from state agencies will appear before the committee to present their spending requests for the next fiscal year.
It is important throughout the budget development process that we work together and with all stakeholders to develop and implement strategies that will move New Mexico forward. Working as a team will bring out the best ideas. After all, if two heads are better than one, then think what we can do with 100. Teamwork brings out the best ideas.
But we need more than teamwork. We need a vision for New Mexico. We need to target spending at those programs we know will take us from the bottom of too many rankings of well-being to at least the middle of these meaningful measures.
Instead of adding resources to existing programs each year, whether the program is working or not, we should start many agency budgets from zero and then fund, at an appropriate level, existing programs that work and initiatives backed by evidence of effectiveness. This approach has the advantage of allowing us to look at new technologies and approaches and recognize our objectives may require a completely different set of strategies.
We should focus on providing for the basic needs of the poorest New Mexicans and work to improve their access to healthcare, employment, and housing.
Education dollars should be aimed at expanding the teacher training and practices that are already showing results and other proven approaches.
Public safety spending should include the resources to build trust between law enforcement and communities; to build the infrastructure, like neighborhood watch, that allows communities to be part of the solution; and to address addiction recovery and behavioral health.
Future spending and reasonable expectations about growth and implementation should be part of the plan. Pouring money into a program that does not have the capacity to use it to expand is a waste of resources that could be used more effectively elsewhere. Particularly important in light of the oil and gas revenue surplus currently boosting state coffers, we should not spend one-time money to create or expand programs we will not be able to pay for when the energy industry boom is over.
And we need to hold state agencies accountable.
Every agency asking for money should have to present LFC with a strategic plan and report on how it directs their programs, on whether services are being provided efficiently and effectively, and on whether services are making a difference. Every agency should have a concrete plan on how they will use any new money. And to state the obvious, every agency should have a current and clean financial audit.
New Mexico has the bright minds that could solve our states many problems. We, at least for now, have the resources to make it happen. We at the LFC even have a set of tools called Legislating for Results that can help us make the best budget decisions. It’s time to bring all the elements together to make a difference for New Mexico.
Sen. Pete Campos, a Democrat from Las Vegas who holds a doctorate in educational leadership and a master’s in guidance and counseling, has been a member of the New Mexico Senate since 1991 and a member of the Senate Finance Committee since 1997. Campos is also a member of the Legislative Finance, Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy, and Water and Natural Resources committees. He has served as the senator from District 8 in northern New Mexico since 1991 and has served as president of Luna Community College, superintendent of the Las Vegas City Schools, and mayor of Santa Rosa.